Evacuation Tales, A Grande Dame Expands and Cash Mobbing for Coulis
Last Monday, in advance of Isaac's landfall, I packed my wife, my 3-month-old daughter and my step-daughter into my car and evacuated to Amite, La. My mother's family is from Amite, and she has a fairly large house there. After Katrina, she installed a generator large enough to power the air conditioning and refrigerator, so for the week we were there, we were pretty comfortable. I am fond of Amite. I have friends and relatives there, and often those categories overlap. It's a peaceful place, even with a couple of kids underfoot, but after a week, I was missing New Orleans with a passion. Because for all its charm, Amite is not what you'd call a dining destination.
I had some of the best meals of my life in Amite, in the very home in which we stayed while there. Those meals were prepared by my grandmother, though. In fact, when I was a child and we'd visit my grandparents, the only memorable restaurant meals we had were at Middendorf's, about 25 minutes away. (As an aside, Middendorf's took some water during Isaac, but should be back in business within a couple of weeks). I guess what I'm saying is that I missed the restaurants in New Orleans. I love to cook – among the precious items with which I evacuated were my chef's knife, my pressure cooker and a few other kitchen tools – every once in a while you just want to sit down and be fed.
So when power returned to our Mid-City neighborhood, we were back in a flash. I don't know how the rest of you feel, but it's good to be home.
Not long before we left town I got a press release that informed me Galatoire's (209 Bourbon St.) is growing. The restaurant's owners have purchased the adjacent building at 215 Bourbon St., and after renovations are completed, they plan to add private dining and event space to significantly expand the restaurant. The press release included the following quotes from Melvin Rodrigue, Galatoire's president and chief operating officer:
“Our guests have clamored for larger parties and events that can embrace the energy and grandeur of the first floor of Galatoire's. We listened and now we can showcase the largest celebrations and the most intimate affairs,” said Rodrigue. “The first floor of 215 Bourbon St. may feature new dining and bar space, and the second floor private dining rooms will offer access to galleries overlooking Bourbon St. Guests can be reassured, though, that the legendary first floor of Galatoire's will be untouched and continue to create memorable afternoons and evenings, as we have for more than a century.”
I know that there are some of you reading this for whom any change at the beloved restaurant is anathema. Galatoire's knows that too, because in a two-page press release the phrase, “We are not going to change the first floor dining room” appeared in various iterations a half-dozen times. I suppose there is a legitimate concern that this expansion will dilute things; that the restaurant's ability to keep up with the added business will lead to a decline in service and the quality of the food. I'm confident that the folks running the show at the venerable restaurant are savvy enough not to mess things up.
Hurricane Isaac left a swath of destruction over the entire region, and while New Orleans was spared the flooding that devastated parts of St. Tammany, St. John the Baptist and Plaquemines parishes, not everyone escaped with only the loss of electricity. Coulis (3625 Prytania St.), for example, suffered damage to its roof and water damage as a result. Heather Leeming and her husband chef James Leeming opened Coulis in 2009 in the space formerly occupied by the Bluebird Cafe on Prytania Street. Leeming had worked in some of the best kitchens in New Orleans, including Commander's Palace, Brigtsen's and Dick and Jenny's. Chef Leeming died suddenly in June of last year, and Heather kept the restaurant open with some help from some of James' many friends in the restaurant community. Still, it's not been an easy year, so on Tuesday, September 11, friends of the restaurant are planning a “cash mob” to help offset the costs to repair damage from Isaac.
Perhaps like me you've never heard the term “cash mob.” From the press release I got announcing the event, I learned that it's a grass roots movement to support local businesses. “With $20 in hand, members of the community come together to shop in a locally-owned establishment to support the area economy. In this case, it is specifically to help with recovery efforts from Hurricane Isaac.”
I know there's a lot of need at the moment, and that a lot of us are stretched pretty thin. But this is a good way to help some folks in need, and it's not a donation. You'll get some great food in exchange for your money, and if you feel like leaving an extra-large tip, so much the better.